Olmsted’s eye roamed after focus on poor

“There was no escaping the irony of his last great endeavor. The young [Frederick Law] Olmsted had ridden this part of North Carolina in 1854 as a decrier of aristocracy and proponent of state-aided uplift of the masses. He’d returned to the region to end his career designing the grounds of a 250-room French-style chateau, the largest private home in the nation.”

— From “Spying on the South: An Odyssey across the American Divide” by Tony Horwitz (2019)

More about Olmsted in North Carolina here. And there’s even a statue at the North Carolina Arboretum. 

Biltmore House: Not all the best things in life are free

“The signs [at Biltmore House] telling you the admission fee were practically invisible, but you could see from the ashen-faced look on people as they staggered away from the ticket windows that it must be a lot. Even so I was taken aback when my turn came and the unpleasant-looking woman at the ticket window told me that the admission fee was $17.50 for adults and $13 for children. ‘Seventeen dollars and fifty cents!‘ I croaked. ‘Does that include dinner and a floor show?’

“The woman was obviously used to dealing with hysteria and snide remarks. In a monotone she said, ‘The admission fee includes admission to the George Vanderbilt house, of which 50 of the 250 rooms are open tho the public. You should allow two to three hours for the self-guided tour. It also includes admission to the extensive gardens for which you should allow 30 minutes to one hour. It also includes admission and guided tour of the winery with audiovisual presentation and complimentary wine tasting. A guide to the house and grounds, available for a separate charge, is recommended. Afterwards you may wish to spend further large sums of money in the Deerpark Restaurant or, if you are a relatively cheap person, in the Stable Cafe, as well as avail yourself of the opportunity to buy expensive gifts and remembrances in he Carriage House Gift Shop.’

“But by this time I was already on the highway again, heading for the Great Smoky Mountains, which, thank God, are free…”

— From “The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America” by Bill Bryson (1989) 

In the quarter century since Bryson’s visit, cost of admission to Biltmore House has risen to $60 (no charge for children accompanied by adults).


Arthur Murray’s Asheville, sweet and sour

“At summer’s end [of 1914], Arthur went from Marblehead [Mass.] to the Battery Park Hotel, a sprawling resort sitting on its own 40-acre hill in the middle of Asheville.

“Almost at once he became the favorite dancing partner of Mrs. George Vanderbilt. At nearby Biltmore he taught young Cornelia Vanderbilt the currently popular Lulu-Fado.

“The standard fee for dance lessons was $5 an hour, which Arthur and [his teaching partner] the Baroness split. Soon there was a falling out. Arthur discovered that the Baroness was charging Mrs. Vanderbilt $50 a lesson, while giving him only $2.50. Moreover, although Arthur never took a drink, the Baroness never refused one. When the management asked her to leave, Arthur maneuvered himself into the position of social director of the hotel…. It was a fabulous life indeed for the poor boy from the slums.

“Whenever Arthur talks about Asheville… he looks wistful. ‘Never before had I seen such attractive people, nor dreamed of such delicious little tea sandwiches  and fancy cakes.’ ”

— From “My Husband, Arthur Murray” by Kathryn Murray (1960)

Arthur Murray Studios became the world’s most successful chain of dance instruction, and Kathryn had a 10-year run on network TV hosting “The Arthur Murray Party.”

More details from their daughter’s recent memoir.

Vanderbilts don’t welcome ‘newspaper notoriety’

On this day in 1897: President William McKinley, en route to Washington by train, arrives in Asheville for an overnight stay at the Biltmore House.

George W. Vanderbilt is out of the country and has left in charge E.J. Harding, who precipitates a minor flap by briefly refusing entrance to the White House press. “Mr. Vanderbilt does not like newspaper notoriety,” he explains, “and neither do I.”

Pictured: “Real photo” mirror/paperweight, early 1900s.

Moving out of Biltmore House? Brits appalled

“The American mogul William A. V. Cecil told a bi-national meeting at Leeds Castle, Kent, in 1980 how he had transformed his North Carolina estate, Biltmore, from debt-laden encumbrance to lucrative honeypot by moving out of the house. This horrified the custodial English, bent on tenanting their stately homes even if bankrupt. Britons cared about living in their homes, Americans about owning them.”

– From “The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History” by David Lowenthal (1996)